Thursday, January 6, 2011

More National Gallery

The National Gallery has an ongoing series of lectures and events for all ages.  Some are free and some cost a nominal amount.  They have a new website and the list of events can be searched by date here.

On my recent visit, I had a real treat.  I got to see one of my favourite paintings, which is in the NGI collection but not on permanent display because, like the Turners, it's a watercolour and delicate.  You can make an appointment to see it.

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton RA (1816-1900) depicts an imagined scene from the Danish epic poem "The Legend of Hellelil & Hildebrand".  She was a Danish princess, he was her English bodyguard, and also a prince.  Her father found out they were lovers and wasn't a bit pleased so he ordered Hildebrand's death, at the hands of Hellelil's 7 brothers.  Hildebrand slew 6 of them and then spared the life of the youngest at his lover's request, even though it meant his own death.  It's a fairly bloody story, but Burton chose to depict a stolen moment of privacy as he goes to battle her brothers. 

What I found was that prints and images of it really don't do it justice.  The vibrancy of the colour (in a 147 year old painting) shows how well it has been protected.  The feeling of sadness and love lost can really be felt when you see the painting.  It's still in its original frame, which Burton specified should always stay with it to contrast the colours with the giltwork in it.  Burton is an Irish artist and held the prestigious position of director of (English) National Gallery for 20 years.  He's often wrongly described as a Pre-Raphelite, and it's easy to see why when looking at this painting: Hellelil's hair is very reminiscent of Rosetti's work.  The author George Eliot, who Burton also painted, was so impressed with this painting that she wrote to Burton about it, waxing lyrical about the imagery calling it "the highest pitch of refined emotion".  Meeting on the Turret Stairs was first exhibited in 1864 and was bequeathed by its then owner Margaret Stokes to the NGI in 1900.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have put it better myself!